Lesar: What are Muffet McGraw's options after Notre Dame's departures?

Al Lesar
South Bend Tribune

Trust translates proportionately into opportunity for the players on the Notre Dame women’s basketball team.

It might be a subjective equation, but it has worked pretty well over the past three decades for coach Muffet McGraw.

Without trust, there are gaps.

Two members of the Irish team seemed to fall through those gaps Monday. Notre Dame announced that Ali Patberg, a 5-foot-10 sophomore point guard, and Erin Boley, a 6-2 freshman wing, were leaving the program with plans to transfer at the end of the semester.

McGraw, through a Notre Dame spokesman, declined to comment. Players numbers were unavailable and there were no statements from the players through Notre Dame or social media.

Scott Boley, Erin's father, was reached and declined comment.

Only those in the inner circle know the real issues, but from the periphery there are some good guesses.

Patberg’s career was marred by injury and illness. She missed her entire freshman year with an ACL injury. A self-professed gym rat from Columbus, Ind., who was considered the best prep point guard (McDonald’s All-American, MaxPreps National Player of the Year) in the country two years ago, was focused on making an impact before this season started.

"I haven't played yet, but when I do play, I'll have more passion than I ever had before," Patberg told the Tribune in the early fall. "It's like a 'new monster.' I couldn't play for 11 months. I've realized that you have to give everything you have every single day.

"It will be like (for fans), 'Wow, her whole heart is out there.' "

At that time, McGraw was high on Patberg.

"Mentally, she's really smart," said the Irish coach. "She really studies the game. What she's doing now: 'OK, let's run through the offense and make sure I've got it.' She watches a lot of film. She's really engaged, and she has been."

Patberg played in the first two games of this season. Then, she missed the next eight with an illness. After that, her only extensive minutes were in blowouts against Boston College and North Carolina.

Patberg’s last meaningful minute — actually it was less than a minute — was in the regular-season finale against Florida State. With the game still in doubt, she committed a foul and a turnover in that brief time, and was sent back to the bench for the rest of the game.

She played one minute in the NCAA Tournament game against Ohio State and didn’t see the floor against Purdue and Stanford.

Patberg finished with 18 total points, 11 assists and eight turnovers in the 22 games (169 minutes) she played.

The June arrival of graduate transfer Lili Thompson, a former Stanford standout who is skilled as a point guard or wing, could also have had a bearing on Patberg’s decision.

Boley’s situation was different. She played in all 37 games, starting 10. The former McDonald’s All-American and Gatorade National Player of the Year was a 3-point specialist, hitting 39 percent (47 of 119) and averaged 6.5 points.

The native of Hodgenville, Ky., went back to her home state, at Lexington, and scored 14 points — with a career-high nine rebounds — in a win over Ohio State in the NCAA Regional semifinal. In the regional championship loss to Stanford, Boley played just eight second-half minutes and scored nine total points.

Boley’s role changed throughout the season. When Kathryn Westbeld went down with an ankle injury in mid-January, Boley went from a wing to a post in many situations. Then, when post Brianna Turner sustained an ACL injury in the second round of the tournament, Boley's post work became even more vital.

"Offensively, we know she's going to knock shots down," Irish assistant Beth Cunningham told the Tribune after the Ohio State win. "She just had to tighten some things up defensively and do a great job on the boards. She had to put herself in a position where she could stay on the floor."

Given the departures, the state of the Irish roster for 2017-18 becomes an immediate issue.

With Lindsay Allen and Diamond Thompson graduated, and Patberg and Boley leaving, seven players will be returning.

Last week, McGraw said Turner’s return from her injury in time to play next season is a question.

"I want her to be 100 percent," McGraw said last week. "I don't want her only cleared to play. She is too good a player to just go half a year.

"She could miss a year. I told her we weren't going to talk about it. We need to focus on one thing at a time. Just have surgery, see how it goes, see how rehabilitation is going and then in the fall we can take our time and decide."

Besides Thompson, incoming freshmen next season will be posts Danielle Patterson, a McDonald’s All-American this spring, and Mikayla Vaughn.

Four of ESPN’s top 100 high school seniors (class of 2017) — two guards and two posts — are unsigned.

Take a flier on one of them? Another grad transfer? Stand pat and hope for the best?

After 30 years, trust McGraw to figure it out.

Notre Dame head coach Muffet McGraw lost two players to transfer on Monday, point guard Ali Patberg and wing Erin Boley. (Tribune Photo/MICHAEL CATERINA)